"The correlation between the two brothers was anti-depression medications, Bearden said. While he can’t confirm that the prescription medication was what led to the brothers’ suicides, Bearden said it happens too often that prescription drugs change the mindset of a person."
Paragraph four reads: "Bearden added, 'People need to know that we do, in fact, have a problem in Saline County. We don’t really have many ‘hard’ drugs here anymore. Every once in awhile you’ll see cocaine or marijuana or other street drugs, but most of the deaths … 90 percent come from prescription drugs'.”
Coroner: Teen Drug Death Rate High
Saturday, 06 February 2010
The hand reaches down as another parent enters the room fearing the worst. The large black bag slowly unzips and the worst fear a parent never wants to believe, that moment is here. Inside the darkness of the body bag lies someone's son, daughter, nephew, their niece someone's good friend, and another family is torn apart with grief, confusion, and a wish it was them instead.
It is a day that Will Bearden has seen too often in his 13 years as the Saline County Corner, and 18 years previously riding on an ambulance as an EMT. Nearly everyday Bearden has to tell yet another family what caused the death of a loved one, and surprising to many, he said nearly 90 percent are due to drugs and alcohol.
In fact, in 2009 alone, Bearden said that about 60 deaths were related to drugs and alcohol, and nearly 30 of those deaths involved teenagers living in Saline County, and state officials say the county leads the state in the number of fatal drug overdoses.
“When you say it won’t happen to me or my family, you are about to eat your words, because I have seen it happen time and time again,” Bearden said. “I work in it every day, and I see a lot of sad families asking what they could have done to help their son or daughter.”
Bearden added, “People need to know that we do, in fact, have a problem in Saline County. We don’t really have many ‘hard’ drugs here anymore. Every once in awhile you’ll see cocaine or marijuana or other street drugs, but most of the deaths … 90 percent come from prescription drugs.”
Bearden said even Arkansas Chief Medical Examiner Charles Kokes believes “Saline County has one of the highest percentages of deaths caused by drug overdoses.”
But it isn’t just teens that are dying from prescription drugs or alcohol; everyone is at risk, he said. From fatality accidents to accidental overdoses to suicides, people “age 85 and down” have deaths related to the rise in prescription drug abuse.
“One guy last year locked himself inside a bathroom and shot himself, and this was a retired military man that was highly decorated,” Bearden said. “Then come to find out, his brother had done the same thing the week before in another state.”
The correlation between the two brothers was anti-depression medications, Bearden said. While he can’t confirm that the prescription medication was what led to the brothers’ suicides, Bearden said it happens too often that prescription drugs change the mindset of a person.
“Drugs definitely affect a person’s mental state,” he said. “I also believe that it’s a mental disease when someone gets hooked on drugs. Many people addicted believe they have pain (whether physical, mental or emotional) and they take medications for their pain. Some aren’t trying to do harm; they just take too much and then some just go and take their lives, and probably wouldn’t have if they wouldn’t have had so much medication affecting their mental state.”
Bearden said of the nearly 60 deaths in Saline County last year, around 22 were ruled suicides. After the bodies are sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for toxicology screens, most come back with some type of drugs in their system, the majority being prescription drugs.
“I’ve had to help out with a lot of those autopsies because the medical examiner is overloaded with cases all the time, and I’ve seen where pills aren’t even digested in the stomach yet and sometimes are still in a person’s mouth,” Beard said. “What makes this job tough is when you have to approach the loved ones of those that died. I’ve seen a lot of divorces and hatred with families after a son or daughter’s death because the parents keep blaming each other … it’s just a real sad thing to see, and I see it too often.”
Bearden also recalls many trips to the Saline Memorial Hospital in which a person survived an overdose. But it isn’t in any way pleasant for anyone, he said.
“Three or four times a night I bet someone overdoses on drugs, but survives from having their stomachs pumped and they fight with the doctors and nurses,” Bearden said. “It’s got to be a unbelievable pain to have a stomach pumped, but they shouldn’t have put themselves in that situation if they didn’t want that to happen and the medical staff has to do whatever they can to save their life.”
Then there is the criminal side of people hooked on drugs. Once, Bearden said he left the home of an older person that had just died and later returned to the home to retrieve medications to help with the death investigation.
“It wasn’t even 30 minutes later that I returned to the home,” he said. “I found the back door kicked in and inside were two teenagers going through the medicine cabinets. They were ambulance-listening and chasing in hopes of finding prescription drugs.”
Bearden said police and others are now even warning families to not list the addresses of the deceased. He said the prescription drug abusers do everything from listen to police/fire/ambulance scanners, to chasing ambulances to even reading obituaries in newspapers.
“It has unfortunately come to that point,” Bearden said. “Don’t tell people where the family is because they’ll break in and look for whatever (prescription) drugs they can find.”
However, Bearden believes this can be overcome. He said people first need to listen and believe there is a problem and then work together to find solutions.
“We’ve got to get the message to the younger kids and we can do that by getting the parents and grandparents involved in teaching them and making them realize that it can happen to them,” Bearden said. “I think we need more programs in school to recognize and talk about this problem. And the younger the children we can reach, the better we can be in helping it all end. But really the best way is by word of mouth.”
One program Bearden said he is “100 percent behind” is the Operation Medicine Cabinet. (See
Most importantly, Bearden said people have to truly believe there is a problem with prescription drug abuse in Saline County.
Unzipping another body bag and having to tell parents that their child is gone is a part of the job Bearden wishes he never has to do again, but it happens much too often.
“ … It will send chills up your spine,” he said. “ … Letting parents in to identify the body … that’s real stuff, and I want to change that. If we can all work together, we can end it.”